ERC is set to light up the Latvian winter wonderland

2014 FIA European Rally Championship, round two of 12 Rally Liepāja, 31 January-2 February 2014 (Latvia)
ERC Junior set for lift-off in Latvia as Ice Masters aim to fly
While the battle for outright victory on round two of the FIA European Rally Championship is set to light up the Latvian winter wonderland on Rally Liepāja next week, 15 of the sport’s most promising young talents will be embarking on an exciting new adventure when the FIA ERC Junior Championship gets underway.
A new initiative for the 2014 season, the ERC Junior Championship is for drivers 25 and under at the start of the year using R2-specification machinery on control MICHELIN tyres. Counting their best four scores from seven events, including one gravel-based rally, the winner will get the use of an R5 car on selected rounds of the ERC in 2015. The championship will also benefit from exclusive highlights on Eurosport and dedicated online promotion, while the drivers will receive media training from ERC promoter Eurosport Events.
Rally Liepāja took place for the first time in 2013 when it ran up the Baltic coast from Liepāja to Ventspils in the far west of the country. With Ventspils no longer included on the itinerary, a revamped route will feature stages in the Liepāja and Kuldīga districts only. It means all but one stage is completely unchanged from 2013, while the stage, run twice on Sunday, has never been used before.
With the stages taking place on ice and snow-covered gravel, Rally Liepāja is the second event of the 2014 season to count for ERC Ice Master points, which rewards surface specialists competing in the European championship. Rallying on ice and snow is a stunning spectacle as drivers push flat out on the high-speed runs. While suspension tweaks ensure traction and stability, companies such as MICHELIN, PIRELLI and YOKOHAMA supply special tyres fitted with more than 350 metal studs designed to bite into the surface beneath to provide grip.
Following the Qualifying Stage at 15:00hrs local time on Friday, which is used to determine the start order for leg one among the FIA and ERC priority drivers, crews cross the starting ramp on Liepāja’s promenade at 20:00hrs, ahead of the competitive action getting underway on Saturday. Leg one is based around the town of Kuldīga, 88 kilometres north of Liepāja, and includes three repeated stages. Following end-of-day service in Liepāja, Sunday’s route consists of a further three repeated tests, this time centred on Aizpute 50 kilometres north of host city Liepāja where the finish will take place at 16:25hrs on Sunday. Fifty-six crews have entered the rally, which also counts as a round of the Latvian championship.
ERC Juniors aim to build experience
While Jan Černý (Czech Republic), Risto Immonen (Finland) and Stéphane Lefebvre (France) will look to make the most of the experience they garnered from competing in Latvia last season, the ERC Junior category will be closely contested as the 15 young stars look to impress while gaining crucial experience at the same time. Petter Kristiansen (Norway), Mattias Olsson (Sweden) and Steve Røkland (Norway) are well versed in driving on snow and ice. Fabrizio Andolfi and Andrea Crugnola will fly the flag for Italy with young Romanian Florin Tincescu joining Crugnola in the Napoca Rally Academy line-up. German promise Marijan Griebel heads the new ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team, Chris Ingram has won numerous awards in the United Kingdom, while Jean-Mathieu Leandri (France) impressed on several ERC runs in 2013. Tomas Pospisilik (Czech Republic) is a graduate from autocross, while Kevin van Deijne (Netherlands) and Aleks Zawada (Poland) complete the entry of promising young stars.
Serious competition ahead in victory battle
Having challenged for victory in Latvia last season, Peugeot Rally Academy’s Irish ace Craig Breen is one of the favourites to win on his first start in this year’s ERC. However, ERC event winner Esapekka Lappi will also be in contention as the Finn gets his ERC campaign underway with ŠKODA Motorsport. German talent Sepp Wiegand will pilot a second factory Fabia S2000 under the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland banner. Bryan Bouffier heads to Latvia fresh from finishing second overall on Rallye Monte-Carlo, and will be a contender in his debut in a Citroën DS3 RRC. Russian rising star Vasily Gryazin, who competes with a Latvian licence, is highly rated, while Jaromír Tarabus is embarking on a year-long ERC assault with Kresta Racing. Kajetan Kajetanowicz, the four-time Polish champion, was a stage winner on the ERC season-opener in Austria at the wheel of his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5. French drivers Robert Consani and Jean-Michel Raoux will aim to score ERC points in their Peugeot 207 S2000s.
Orsak returns to lead the Czech challenge
Seven drivers from Czech Republic will be in action, including former ERC Production Car Cup frontrunner Jaroslav Orsák and ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák. As well as driving his Fabia S2000, Orsák will oversee ex-motocross rider Martin Hudec’s entry. All three will contest the Halls Winter Rally in Lithuania this weekend as part of their preparations. Meanwhile, Robert Adolf will compete in a second Kresta Racing Fabia.
Father and son make Latvia return
Experienced competitor Marco Tempestini and his teenage son Simone will head the Napoca Rally Academy line-up on their second start in Latvia. Tempestini Sr will drive a Ford Fiesta R5 with Tempestini Jr competing in a Subaru Impreza R4 STI.
Race for ERC Production Car Cup set to thrill
The ERC Production Car Cup will be hotly contested, with Estonia’s Siim Plangi, last year’s winner Vytautas Švedas from Lithuania, Austrian Hermann Neubauer, plus Hungarian duo András Hadik and Kornél Lukács all set to shine. Former rallycross star Łukasz Kabaciński steps up from the ERC 2WD Championship.
ERC two-wheel aces gun for Latvia glory
The competition will also be close among the two-wheel-drive runners. With the 15 ERC Junior drivers also eligible for ERC 2WD points, the entry is not just big on quality but also quantity. Category regulars Sławomir Ogryzek and Renato Pita will go up against several local drivers including Latvians Ralfs Sirmacis and Kristaps Feldmanis.
Tushkanova hoping for a model success
Ukrainian glamour model Inessa Tushkanova will be making her long awaited return to the ERC having been able to start in Latvia last year following a crash on a practice rally the previous weekend. Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer, Tushkanova will go up against Ekaterina Stratieva in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy. The event will take on added significance for Stratieva, with the Bulgarian driver stepping up to a Subaru Impreza for the first time, having competed in two-wheel-drive machinery only in the past.
Five facts
*Liepāja is known as the ‘city where the wind is born’ because of the breeze from the Baltic Sea.
*Citizens of Liepāja, Latvia’s third largest city, are described as tough, wise and daring.
*The Mayor of Liepāja, Uldis Sesks, is a big rally fan, so much so that he’ll be attending the pre- and post-event press conferences.
*Feeling hungry in Liepāja? Sklandrausis (carrot pie), black bread and biešu zupa (red beetroot soup) are all popular local dishes.
*Liepāja’s Olympic Centre, home to the rally headquarters and media centre, is big on variety when it comes to choosing sports – with basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and judo among the activities on offer.
On this event in 2013
Jari Ketomaa overcame Craig Breen’s early threat to win, as the ERC made its first visit to Latvia. Ketomaa, co-driven by Kimi Räikkönen’s former navigator Kaj Lindström in a Ford Fiesta RRC, had trailed Breen over the opening five stages but moved in front on stage six when the extra top-end speed of his turbocharged engine told on the super-fast ice-coated roads. Breen, in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000, remained in contention until stage 12 when a minor electrical glitch cost him precious time and prompted him to settle for a strong second place. François Delecour secured the final podium spot in another Peugeot after a close battle with Russian Alexey Lukyanuk, who retired with two stages left, after a brush with a snowbank damaged his Mitsubishi Lancer’s oil cooler. Vytautas Švedas inherited the showroom category laurels in a similar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, while Risto Immonen claimed the ERC 2WD victory in a Citroën C2 R2 Max after long-term leader Stéphane Lefebvre dropped to second with gearbox problems.